The Curmudgeon


Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Night Manager

Susanne Bier 2015

There was once a time when John le Carré and the BBC were a potent combination. The two George Smiley serials featuring Alec Guinness are masterpieces of acting, exposition and moral seediness, pulling no punches either with the Nineteen Eighty-Four beetle-man who is their ostensible hero, or with the pain and peril of those relative innocents who are ground up in his machinations. Susanne Bier's The Night Manager dispenses with such outmoded complexities, serving up a simple-minded melodrama in which an evil arms dealer, operating with the connivance of the British government, is brought down by a rainbow alliance of plucky little underdogs.

The acting is unimpeachable. Hugh Laurie is very good as Richard Onslow Roper, who comes across as Edward Fox's Jackal self-promoted from the death-factory floor; Tom Hollander amuses playing Leonard to Roper's Vandamm; and Olivia Colman is excellent as the spymaster Angela Burr, despite a script which feels the need to establish her as a breeder so we can be properly certain of her moral compass. It is amusing to see (however briefly) Burr's husband given the unloved, dutiful, long-suffering but conveniently unseen character more usually reserved for the action hero's wife.

Otherwise, we're back in the fifties. Colman delivers (very well) a monologue about the consequences of chemical warfare, thus establishing the conventional one-to-one relationship of personal trauma and present motivation. A female expendable commits suicide after a single scene, thus motivating a useful pawn without any unnecessary unpleasantness. An Arab whore serves as the Night Manager's motivation by getting her head bashed in; an Aryan-American whore, by contrast, makes due sacrifice on the hero's behalf and gains appropriate redemption complete with family values.

Also on the debit side are an intrusive musical score, which seems determined to hand-hold our mood through every single non-dialogue moment on the soundtrack; and the patronising use of captions to tell us where we are, even when the photography, action and dialogue make it perfectly clear. In these as in other respects, The Night Manager as a whole better befits the smug crudities of mainstream Hollywood than the man who once wrote The Looking-Glass War and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.


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